Swine influenza has made it to Sacramento County, causing worry among many local residents.
Earlier this week, Sacramento health officials confirmed that of the 14 cases of swine flu in California, one is in Sacramento. The other cases include five in Imperial County, and seven in San Diego County and one in San Bernardino County. No cases have been reported in Yolo County.
California Department of Health spokesperson Oscar Ramirez said that increases in cases are likely and some may be fatal. The virus can be treated, however, and the state is prepared with over 3.6 million doses of antiviral medication.
“The [California Health Department] is as worried as the CDC,” Ramirez said. “People need to observe general hygiene practice.“
Swine flu is biologically very similar to the type of influenza that comes around every year and is classified in the same way. Like the regular flu found in humans and other animals, swine flu is categorized as influenza subtype A, said UC Davis Medical School faculty member Christian Sandrock, an expert in infectious diseases.
“The hard thing is, it looks like the regular flu,” Sandrock said. “How you would tell [based on symptoms] is nearly impossible.“
A common misconception has spread that swine flu comes from eating pork products. Yolo County public health officer Dr. Joseph Iser said this is not true. Swine flu is a mutated influenza strain, though it does have some genetic protein from pigs, along with human and avian components.
Originating in Mexico, the strain has made it to the U.S. and is spreading just like any flu. In Mexico 159 deaths have been associated with swine flu. Outside of Mexico cases have been milder, said Sandrock. The CDC has issued a travel warning, limiting non-essential travel to Mexico.
“I think people shouldn’t be too worried about it, but should be vigilant with preventative measures,” Sandrock said.
Prevention is key, especially in Yolo County, which neighbors Sacramento County. Yolo County Health Department has distributed prevention tips and general swine flu information to medical facilities and schools, including UC Davis.
Iser said people should watch for any signs of illness and follow basic health etiquette, such as covering mouths when coughing and sneezing. Frequent hand washing is also recommended.
“[Swine flu] doesn’t appear to be any more or less infectious than any other influenza,” Iser said.
Yolo County has no reported cases of swine flu, though samples from Yolo have been sent to Sacramento health labs. The public will be frequently updated, said Iser.
UC Davis works with the county and public health officers and is prepared for a pandemic situation, such as a swine flu outbreak, said UC Davis emergency and business continuity manager Valarie Lucus. No cases have been found yet on campus.
“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be on the alert and aware,” Lucus said.
The swine flu outbreak prompted the World Health Organization to raise the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 4. According to the CDC, this means the virus can be spread person-to-person and can cause community level outbreaks.
“I think they should have raised [the alert level] long ago,” Iser said. “[Yolo County] concern was raised before they raised their levels.“
UC Davis‘ concern is also at high levels. Since Friday, Lucus has been in discussion with university officials and local news services. Students can find more information regarding swine flu on the Student Health Services and CAPS websites, both which are linked through the main UC Davis website.
The Sacramento Public Health Department was not able to comment due to an overwhelming amount of media attention about the swine flu outbreak. A Sacramento Health Department representative recommended worried citizens visit their website for concerns about swine flu at sadchhs.com.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.